Europe’s most modern navy lacks crew

Norway has spent more than NOK 20 billion on new state-of-the-art frigates, but staff officers flee the navy for better jobs.

Norway’s Minister of Defense Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen was very proud when the navy got its first new frigate “KNM Fridtjof Nansen” in 2006. 

“Altogether this is an investment of more than NOK 20 billion (€2,7 billion), including weapons and helicopters. Many would argue that this is a lot of money. I agree. But it is well spent money,” Strøm Erichsen said in a press-statement posted on the portal of the Ministry.

Since then, Norway got all of its five new frigates, the final one delivered last year. But the frigates mainly lie alongside the quay.

Last week, Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen could read the critics in the annual report on the government’s spending for 2011 published by the Office of the Auditor General of Norway.

“The Auditor General considers seriously the lack of qualified technical personnel onboard the frigates. This could have negative consequences for keeping the vessels in operational condition,” the report reads.

Officers from the Royal Navy’s frigates quit and get new jobs on oil-platforms, onboard supply vessels or in other maritime private businesses. When leaving the navy, they get jobs with better conditions, like fixed scheduled working periods easier to combine with a family life, and often much better paid than serving onboard a naval vessel.

Chief of the Royal Norwegian Navy, Bernt Grimstvedt, admitted this week that the situation is alarming, Aftenposten reports. There is a lack of crew all over to man the five new frigates. Often, officers from one frigate are transferred to another just to be able to have a full crew before sailing from port. The Auditor General’s report also says there is an extensive brain-drain from the frigates. Also, the system of educating new officers is to slow to counter the drift of officers from the frigates.

The new frigates are said to be important for Norway’s sovereignty in the High North. The vessels are, however, a rare sight in the Arctic. The frigates spend most of their time at port at Haakonsvern near Bergen in the south, while Norway’s Arctic territory extends from the Norwegian Sea to the Barents Sea and further north of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean.

“KNM Fridtjof Nansen” visited the Russian Northern fleet’s main base Severomorsk on the Kola Peninsula earlier this year and participated in the joint exercise Pomor-2012 in the Barents- and Norwegian Seas.

Since 2009, Norwegian frigates have regularly participated in pirate hunting in the Aden bay. Yet another mission will take place in the second half of 2013. That will also be the first Norwegian frigate to sail as the command ship for one of NATO’s standing naval forces, the Ministry of Defense reports.

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